‘Immoral trade in human beings’: UK slammed for deporting asylum seekers in return for Rwanda refugees

Ministers also criticised for planning to send modern slavery victims to east African country despite condemning its failure to support trafficked people only last year

May Bulman
Social Affairs Correspondent
Monday 18 April 2022 12:39 BST
Around 50 of the 127,000 refugees in Rwanda are to be resettled in Britain as part of a multi-million pound deal agreed between the two countries last week
Around 50 of the 127,000 refugees in Rwanda are to be resettled in Britain as part of a multi-million pound deal agreed between the two countries last week (REUTERS)

Priti Patel has been accused of taking part in an “immoral trade of human beings” after it emerged the UK will take in a number of refugees from Rwanda in return for deporting thousands of asylum seekers to the country.

Around 50 of the “most vulnerable refugees” in the African nation are to be resettled in Britain as part of a multimillion-pound deal agreed between the two countries last week, under which thousands of UK asylum seekers are set to be deported to Rwanda to have their claims considered there.

It has also emerged that modern slavery victims will be among those removed from Britain under the deal, despite the fact that the UK government condemned Rwanda for its failure to protect and support survivors of trafficking less than a year ago.

The document outlining the terms of the migration deal states that arrangements will be made for Britain to “resettle a portion of Rwanda’s most vulnerable refugees, recognising both participants’ commitment towards providing better international protection for refugees”.

A Home Office source told The Independent this would amount to “around 50” refugees being brought to Britain from the country. Rwanda is already home to more than 127,000 refugees, mainly from Burundi and the Democratic Republic of Congo, most of whom are in refugee camps.

Louise Calvey, head of services and safeguarding at Refugee Action, said: “Every last detail of this sordid deal pushed through by the home secretary reveals it to be no more than a grubby and immoral trade in human beings.

“The plan to take 50 vulnerable refugees from Rwanda would suggest the government does not have full confidence in the system there to safeguard people fleeing war and persecution.

“Refugee resettlement must happen with the UNHCR and as part of a more ambitious and long-term programme to welcome and support 10,000 people every year to rebuild their lives in the UK.”

The UNHCR, which facilitates resettlement globally, including from Rwanda, believes there are some 6,000 refugees in the east African country who require resettlement.

But a spokesperson for the organisation said it was not aware of the plans to resettle refugees from Rwanda to the UK as it was “not party” to the terms of the deal.

Announcing the deal last week, Boris Johnson said the approach would “provide safe and legal routes for asylum”. However, other than plans to take in 50 refugees from Rwanda, there is as of yet no evidence that the government is going to increase its safe and legal routes to the UK.

The number of people brought to Britain under resettlement schemes – one of Britain’s main safe and legal routes for refugees – plummeted by 79 per cent between 2019 and 2021, from 5,606 to 1,171.

The Nationality and Borders Bill, which is currently going through parliament, seeks to deny asylum seekers who arrive in the UK via unauthorised routes – such as on small boats in the Channel – the right to bring their family members to join them in Britain.

Enver Solomon, chief executive of the Refugee Council, said: “With so few safe and legal routes available, people who are fleeing war and persecution are left with no other option than to risk their lives in small boats at the hands of smugglers in desperation to find safety.

“Rather than expanding safe routes this government’s borders bill all but destroys the main legal route open to refugees by severely restricting refugee family reunion, the means by which thousands of mainly women and children facing violence and persecution have been able to safely settle in Britain in recent years.”

The memorandum of understanding for the migration deal also makes it clear that victims of modern slavery will be among those sent to Rwanda, stating that the country will be provided with information about relocated individuals “relating to any special needs that may arise as a result of their being a victim of modern slavery and human trafficking”.

This is despite the fact that, only last July, the UK’s international ambassador for human rights, Rita French, condemned Rwanda for failing to “screen, identify and provide support to trafficking victims” in the country.

Kolbassia Haoussou MBE, of the charity Freedom from Torture, said: “It is utterly unconscionable that survivors of human trafficking and modern slavery – the very people that this cruel policy is ostensibly designed to protect – will be deported to a country which less than a year ago this government condemned for failing to support.

“As the extraordinary compassion shown recently by people across this country to those fleeing conflict in Ukraine and Afghanistan shows, the government is dangerously out of step with public opinion on this issue.”

The Home Office and the Rwandan government have been approached for comment.

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